Tag Archives: Holiday

Building Peace: A Time for Giving

I live in a country obsessed with stuff. We have a lot of malls and shopping centers, a lot of sales, many opportunities to spend money. There’s a lot of getting new things, getting rid of old things, and keeping up with trends. I work with very privileged teenagers and for many of them, getting each new iPhone is the norm.

The focus on materialism has struck me sharply this week based on what I’ve seen and heard around school and I started to wonder: Why isn’t this a time for giving?

After talking with an administrator, I was asked to write a few lines for the parent newsletter and submitted the following:

With the prevalence of advertisements and sparkling lights it can be difficult for young people to remember that this time of year is a time for giving. We are lucky to live in Singapore where there are ample opportunities to give back to the community, volunteer time, and donate money to local causes. In Advisory, students are bringing in food donations for Food from the Heart, a resource bank for a variety of non-perishable items. Please consider emphasizing the importance of giving as you talk with your children around this time of year. There is much that clamors for our attention, but giving lies at the heart of what makes us human. As the IB mission states, we aim to develop “caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world”. Thank you for helping us raise these young people.

So for this post, let’s talk about giving.

‘Tis the Season

Many of us are attracted to shiny new things, as the advertising industry well knows. But once we’ve received the shiny new thing, does it make us as happy as we hoped that it would? Does it solve the problem we hoped it would solve? Sure, sometimes we love it and we’re glad to have it. But other times, we find ourselves using or missing the same comfortable old thing instead. Advertisers don’t talk about that part.

This is the time of year where we’re supposed to want the new thing. We deserve it, we’re told. We’ve worked hard. We can treat ourselves. 

And we have worked hard and we can treat ourselves. Sure.

But we can also give.

Giving is a verb. It is an action. It is something you do with purpose in whatever way you’d like. Giving means doing for another without expecting a response. It means thinking about someone else and removing yourself from the equation. Give because you want to and then step aside.

Giving doesn’t actually have a season, but this opportunity is as good as any. We can decide that this is a season of giving and we can promote giving as a peaceful act.

How to Give

Giving is easy because you can give anything.

We can give small moments to people in our lives just to see them smile when they realize we’ve thought of them. We can send a few “thank you” emails. We can offer a compliment about a new shirt or tie. We can smile a bit more, laugh a bit more, appreciate each other just a little bit more. We can ask after one another and listen, really listen, to what people say.

Giving, after all, is a verb.

And if we have it, we can give time. We can set aside our phones and other distractions and give people quality conversation, a friendly phone call. We can volunteer almost anywhere. For those of you in Singapore, we have ample opportunities to do just about anything.

If we’re lucky enough, we can give money. There is no shortage of good causes (and advertisements for causes that might not be so good). I know that this can be overwhelming, so if you’re looking to make the greatest possible impact, here is my favorite place to start.

A Peaceful Act

I haven’t written much about peace and peacebuilding since I published my book back in June, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I’ve been trying to live it with my students in our discussions about prosocial behavior in psychology class. I’ve been talking with friends from outside work to gain new and different perspectives. I’ve been meditating daily to grow in my ability to be open to sensations, experiences, and people.

So this is my request for a peaceful act: Please, amidst the holiday parties and glittery ads, think about giving. 

As I’ve written before, I see peace as the keystone in the arch of what comprises a better world. Giving, in any way you choose, will help make that world a reality.

Life in Color

Wednesday is Deepavali (also spelled Diwali), so Singapore is decorated, lit up, and celebrating. A friend and I ventured to Little India last Friday night for absolutely delicious banana leaf rice  and masala dosa (also spelled thosai). We looked around at everything for sale at the Deepavali market, did a little shopping, and walked away with flowered henna on our hands.

We’re celebrating in school tomorrow and it will be fun to see everyone in traditional Indian dress. Very comfortable, too!

I haven’t been taking a lot of pictures lately but do want to share some of what I have seen and snapped. Singapore now has a neat bike sharing program, which has added to the already robust (but still dangerous) bicycling culture here. Technically it’s illegal to ride on the sidewalk but everyone rides on the sidewalk because it’s safer than riding in the road. I normally don’t mind but sometimes I walk faster than the people on bikes. And sometimes they don’t react when I’m running and the only place for me to go is in the road.

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I took this a few weeks ago at the hawker during a downpour. That temple was under construction when I was here two years ago, so it’s really cool to see it completed.

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As good a parking spot as any and perhaps preferable for not being on the sidewalk.

In addition to enjoying the various cultures that exist in Singapore, I’ve also really loved living in a truly local part of the island that feels completely different from the work world where I spend most of my time.

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The main road near my apartment that I cross to get to the MRT

And finally, since we’re talking about color, here’s a sunset walking home late from work one evening:

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It’s a beautiful world out there. Take a look.

‘Tis the Season

Celebrations in all cultures take place throughout the year, but we are particularly aware of that in December. My family joins about 8% of the US population in not celebrating Christmas, but we do have our own traditions over that holiday that are as stereotypical as one can imagine.

Like most of my friends growing up, we eat Asian takeout (Thai on Christmas Eve and Chinese on Christmas Day) and go to the movies. Sometimes we go bowling. We look forward to it and are excited about it. However, since Judaism follows a lunar calendar and our holidays move around it is also always exciting when Chanukah coincides with Christmas. Chanukah began on Christmas Eve this year, which is only the eighth time this has happen in the last century!

In my family, that meant a lot of traditions at once. Thai food, the new Star Wars movie, and opening the usual first night gifts of a holiday themed tissue box and a box of Chanukah candles. Unfortunately, I missed it. I leave tomorrow to spend my week of school break visiting friends who I haven’t seen in a while and I’m very much looking forward to it!

Our week off started yesterday (not a day too soon, considering the number of students and teachers out sick) and one of my best girls from Singapore who is visiting her family came into Manhattan for a day and a night. The weather yesterday was beautiful and sunny so we spent most of the day wandering around downtown and stopping for shakshuka, coffee, mulled wine, and Mexican food. I love the parts of Manhattan that don’t match the glitter that makes Manhattan a tourist destination.

And then there’s my ongoing obsession with street art like this one on the Lower East Side . . .

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. . . and these in Little Italy. . . .

Today is day two of school break and it has been equally delightful. As is any day that begins with bagels.

I passed by this church in the East Village today that reminded me what actually matters not only during the holidays, but on especially on the holidays:

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At the end of the day, we’re all just trying to make a living in the best ways that we can. My holiday wish for all is that it gets easier.

To the cashier at Trader Joe’s today who folded my receipt into a paper airplane and zoomed it into my shopping bag;
to the Nepalese woman I met this evening who told me about the devastation last year’s earthquakes wreaked on her family;
to the baristas who made my hot chocolate, asked about my day, and told me that holiday overtime pay doesn’t exist in New York City;
to people everywhere putting one foot in front of the other, day after day:
Happy holidays, from my home to yours.

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